Starbucks Corp. (SBUX) Thursday reported a 7 percent rise in December sales at coffee shops open at least 13 months, helped by sales of holiday drinks such as gingerbread and eggnog flavored lattes.

The results were at the mid-point of three Wall Street analysts' estimates, which called for a rise of between 5 percent and 9 percent, according to research reports.

They were at the high end, however, of Starbucks' long-term goal of posting monthly same-store sales increases of between 3 percent and 7 percent.

Prudential analyst Larry Miller, who had been expecting a rise of 5 percent, said in a note to clients that his earnings estimate for the first quarter of 19 cents a share "may prove to be conservative" given Starbucks' strong sales results.

Wall Street analysts, on average, are expecting earnings of 22 cents a share for the quarter ended Jan. 1.

Starbucks shares were down 1.2 percent at $31.24 in after-hours trading on the Inet electronic brokerage following the announcement. The stock closed at $31.61 Thursday on Nasdaq.

Starbucks shares trade at roughly 42 times analysts' average fiscal 2006 earnings estimate, well above the average valuation of about 19 times earnings for companies in the Standard & Poor's Restaurants index.

Miller said Starbucks' valuation, which has risen as the stock price has increased steadily in recent months, "is not excessive, particularly in light of its high level of performance and the potential for upward earnings revisions."